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IES Grant

Title: Disciplinary Writing Instruction for the Social Studies Classroom: A Path to Adolescent Literacy
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: De La Paz, Susan Awardee: University of Maryland, College Park
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2009-6/30/2012) Award Amount: $1,498,632
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A090153

Co-Principal Investigators: Chauncey Monte-Sano and Mark Felton

Purpose: Academic literacy is critical to success in American schools and professional life. However, data from the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress in writing found that fewer than 35 percent of eighth graders wrote essays at or above the proficient level. In addition, the gap between low and middle-income students' performance in 2007 remained great. In both the eighth- and twelfth-grades, students' difficulties were most pronounced on writing tasks that required structured responses to analytical or argumentative prompts, precisely the kinds of disciplinary writing emphasized in secondary, post-secondary and professional settings. In short, the data suggest that a large population of students struggle with the demands of academic literacy in writing. In response, national panels on literacy like Reading Next and the National Commission on Writing have called for increased attention to adolescent writing instruction that is embedded in content courses. This project will address this need by developing an intervention for use in history classrooms that is intended to improve academic writing and reading comprehension of historical texts.

Project Activities: The primary goal for this project is to develop and pilot a multi-component, discipline-based intervention designed to improve the writing of adolescents who are struggling readers. As students read and write about authentic historical documents, literacy skills will be taught. Document-based instructional tasks in both reading and writing modules will be developed. During the first year, researchers will develop, refine and improve initial lessons working closely with teachers. Teachers will implement the initial version of the multi-component lesson sequences, and the researchers will gather feedback from teachers and students to inform revision. Researchers will also work on developing a progress monitoring assessment and fidelity of treatment measures. In the second year, researchers will use what was learned in the initial year to revise the lessons and will then implement and test these revised versions. In addition, the team will investigate the feasibility and practicality of the entire intervention. During the third year, the research team will carry out a pilot test of the intervention.

Products: Products include a newly developed curriculum that can be used in middle school history classes, including supporting materials. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The proposed studies take place in middle schools in Maryland. Each year, five new schools will be recruited with a total estimated sample of 1,200 to 1,600 students in 45 to 75 American History classes.

Sample: The participating schools are ethnically diverse and the district has a high percentage (35 percent) of struggling readers. Approximately 45 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches and 8.5 percent receive English services for speakers of other languages. Students are primarily African-American (76 percent) or Hispanic (15 percent).

Intervention: The researchers propose to deliver the reading and writing intervention in students' social studies' classes. Controversial historical issues will be used to form the basis of the document-based instructional tasks in both reading and writing modules. Literacy skills will be taught as students read and write about authentic historical documents, thus constituting instruction in both literacy skills and history. The fully developed intervention will include materials to support a series of 6 integrated lessons with each to be taught in a 3-day-lesson cycle. These interventions are focused on reading social studies texts, comprehending and analyzing historical texts, and developing and writing document-based essays.

Research Design and Methods: During the curriculum development phase of the study, the research team will work with 20 middle school social studies teachers. Project participants will be eighth-grade students with adequate decoding skills but poor comprehension; a substantial number of participants will be English language learners. The school district will provide information about students' reading abilities using results from previously administered Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) assessment data about students' comprehension. The research team will use additional reading and writing measures to verify the nature of students' reading and writing abilities at the start of each year of the project. During the pilot study in Year 3, researchers will work with approximately 10 teachers from 5 schools with student profiles similar to Year 1 and 2.

During the first year, the team will develop initial versions of the curriculum materials, and will then focus closely on teacher implementation of the multi-component lesson sequences, student engagement and use of the intervention materials, development of a progress monitoring assessment that will be used in Year 3, and development of fidelity of treatment measures. In the second year, researchers will refine the intervention based upon findings of year one, examine the nature of support given to teachers in preparation for implementing the intervention, and focus on students' independent use of the strategies introduced in the intervention. During the third year, the research team will conduct a pilot study in which the progress monitoring tool, developed earlier, will be used to examine the nature of change that results from the delivery of the reading and writing intervention using growth curve modeling. The team will also examine how different subgroups of struggling readers and writers respond to the intervention, and seek to increase the number of teachers who implement the intervention in ways that result in improved student outcomes.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: Key measures include essay length, persuasive quality, historical accuracy, number and complexity of arguments, student engagement, strategy use, and treatment fidelity.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to partition the variance in posttest scores controlling for pretest when evaluating data gathered during the pilot study. HLM will also be used for growth models.



Monte-Sano, C., De La Paz, S., and Felton, M. (2014). Reading, Thinking, and Writing About History: Teaching Argument Writing to Diverse Learners in the Common Core Classroom, Grades 6–12. Teachers College Press.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Monte-Sano, C., De La Paz, S., and Felton, M. (2015). Teaching Argument Writing and “Content” in Diverse Middle School History Classrooms. Social Education, 79(4), 194–199.

De La Paz, S., Monte-Sano, C., Felton, M., Croninger, R., Jackson, C., and Piantedosi, K.W. (2017). A Historical Writing Apprenticeship for Adolescents: Integrating Disciplinary Learning With Cognitive Strategies. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(1), 31–52.

Monte-Sano, C., De La Paz, S., and Felton, M. (2014). Implementing a Disciplinary-Literacy Curriculum for US History: Learning From Expert Middle School Teachers in Diverse Classrooms. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46(4), 540–575.

De La Paz, S., Felton, M., Monte-Sano, C., Croninger, R., Jackson, C., Deogracias, J.S., and Hoffman, B.P. (2014). Developing Historical Reading and Writing With Adolescent Readers: Effects on Student Learning. Theory & Research in Social Education, 42(2), 228–274.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Interventions for Struggling Adolescent and Adult Readers and Writers in FY 2009.